May is a big month. Despite it being Small Business Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, and Global Employee Health & Fitness Month, the global pandemic plods into a second year filled with ongoing uncertainty and change. Unsurprisingly, we all have had our mental wellbeing tested in some way, especially small business owners — whether through stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, depression, or grief.
While many employers have focused on providing mental health resources through company healthcare plans, EAPs, and time-off policies, there is far more we can — and should — do to create a workplace culture that is truly healthy, nurturing, and supportive.
As a change-management expert, I have always advocated a holistic approach to achieving systemic change. So, when it comes to mental health in the workplace, it’s important to consider the many variables that can impact our employees’ quality of life. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Total Worker Health® (TWH) program, these factors are many, and can include “heavy workloads, unclear or conflicting demands, lack of involvement in decisions or input in how the work is done, and poor communication.”
If these conditions existed in your workplace pre-pandemic, I guarantee that they increased exponentially over the past year. So, how can we, as leaders, promote a workplace culture that protects our mental and emotional wellbeing, and deepens resilience, engagement, productivity, and creativity for us and our team members?
Here are six ways to start building this foundation.
1. Lift others up with your actions and words.
Some leaders believe that acknowledgement and gratitude should be reserved for rare occasions, and only recognize above-and-beyond results. While I understand that treating all levels of performance equally can render recognition efforts meaningless, we don’t need to take an all-or-nothing approach to gratitude. You can express appreciation to team members for the small things, as well as the big accomplishments. By doing so consistently, you affirm that their hard work and contributions matter to you and your business.
2. Reflect on setbacks with a growth mindset.
Although we cannot stop things from going wrong on occasion, we can rebound much better from these setbacks by adopting a growth mindset — assessing what went wrong, focusing on solutions, and appreciating the learnings gained from those experiences. Avoid toxic responses, such as discrediting, blaming, and shaming. Organizations that embrace a growth mindset create a safe space for risk-taking and empower employees to challenge themselves, dream large, and go big.
3. Be intentional and manage stress with self-care.
Start each day with intention, but be aware when stress blocks your progress. According to the BJPsych Bulletin, published by Cambridge University’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, stress-inducing practices include unrealistic demands, lack of support, lack of appreciation, conflicting roles, and lack of transparency — conditions sadly common in workplaces today. When you find yourself under undue stress, take some time out for self-care. As you commit to, model, and practice self-care, you encourage your team members to follow suit.
4. Set boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries and allowing time to unplug will help safeguard your team’s focus, motivation, and productivity. As leaders, it can be tempting to take advantage of our high performers — some of whom are “pleasers” by nature — by rewarding their great work with even greater demands on their time. Some of us excuse this behavior by saying, “I ask no more of my team than I ask of myself.” Again, it’s up to you to set the right example for your team, by establishing appropriate boundaries, being comfortable saying “no,” and banishing the “martyr mentality” from the workplace.
5. Build breaks into your day.
Integrating at least two or three breaks into your schedule — whether it’s taking time for a snack, a walk outdoors, some solitude, or even a power nap — can help keep you motivated and energized throughout the day. And be sure to encourage your team to do the same, to give everyone an opportunity to reset and take a breath.
6. Take care of your body.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, supporting your physical health is one of the best ways to preserve your mental health. Getting adequate sleep, eating nourishing food, drinking lots of water, exercising daily, and practicing relaxation exercises are all proven, positive ways to enhance your overall wellbeing.
If we as leaders — and as compassionate, caring individuals — can commit to positive changes in our lives and in the lives of our employees, we will take a critical step forward to making mental health awareness a priority, not just for one month, but for 365 days a year.
Christine Andrukonis is the founder and senior partner at Notion Consulting. She has used her unique combination of Human Resources and communications expertise to help c-suite executives activate their teams to shift strategy and structure, establish new business models and capabilities, enhance processes and technology, and strengthen talent and culture.